SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Veterans suffering illnesses related to toxic burn pits are one step closer to the healthcare they need. Senator Bob Casey was in Lackawanna County Wednesday morning to hear from local veterans about that legislation.
Eyewitness News heard a lot of different examples of the problems veterans have faced with the current healthcare system.
The U.S. Military stopped using burn pits nearly a decade ago, but at least three and a half million veterans were exposed to enough toxic fumes to cause respiratory problems and some cancers.
Andy Chomko describes the burn pits he’s come across overseas.
“Charred rubbish, garbage, lithium batteries. Anything that was used that is no longer of use to a U.S. Service man or woman would get tossed in there doused with diesel fuel lit on fire.”
The army veteran was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in the years following 9/11. He and three other local veterans sat down with Senator Casey to share the challenges they face accessing health care and other benefits they are owed for serving our country.
“Maybe the most important word in the title of the bill is a pact, which connotes a promise,” stated Casey.
Their discussions centered on the Bipartisan Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Pact Act.
If passed the legislation would make it easier for exposed veterans to get their benefits by creating a presumption of service connection for 23 respiratory illnesses and cancers.
“A lot of places I would stand and watch right underneath the radar for eight hours a day and things like that so you never know what’s gonna happen in 10 or 15 years,” explained Amber Viola, who served in the U.S. Navy
Viola served in the navy for 8 years from 2010-2018. The pact act is something she’s applauding.
“So if you were going out in the Gulf and Iraq or Afghanistan or different or Djibouti, Africa different places those are covered so even if maybe little specific small tiny bases weren’t necessarily covered your area is.”
The veterans also shared their concerns about problems they’ve come across with VA healthcare. Something the nearly $270 billion dollar bill would help address.
“Once it is signed into law which should be I hope days away now that would be a time that it gets implemented well so that these the dollars get to where they’re supposed to get to and these veterans get the care that they need,” stated Senator Casey.
All the veterans we spoke to would like to see oversight to make sure lawmakers follow through.
The bill needs to go back to the Senate before sending it on to President Biden. It’s expected to pass next week.